Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES — Through three games, Wilmer Flores’ bat has been as advertised, even hitting righties well and one of the few Giants hitters who has looked ready against elite Dodgers pitching after just three weeks of camp.
The defensive play has been less than advertised.
Flores has always been defensively flexible, having moved from second to short to third in his early years with the Mets before getting a long look at first in 2018. He only played the right side of the infield last year with Arizona, then signed this offseason with the Giants, who envisioned him at second and platooning at first with Brandon Belt.
But injuries changed those plans immediately, Evan Longoria and Belt going down, creating openings on the corners that the Giants have struggled to fill.
Flores was at third Thursday and Friday, the first game bobbling a sharp grounder that allowed Mookie Betts to reach first. Friday he airmailed a throw to first that Sandoval leapt for and came down on Chris Taylor, a scary moment from which everyone came out OK. But two games, two errors, and Donovan Solano replaced Flores at third on Saturday (and proceeded to make an error of his own).
Now playing second, Flores’ defensive woes continued, not getting charged with another error only because of nifty plays at first by Darin Ruf. With two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning of a 5-3 game the Giants led, Kike Hernandez hit a lazy grounder to Flores, whose high and wide throw pulled Ruf toward home plate, needing every bit of his 6-foot-2 stature to catch it and tag Hernandez.
Gabe Kapler said they still feel confident in his ability to play all over the infield.
“Right now it’s the equivalent of what a hitter does when you’re trying to do a little bit too much. I think he’s gonna be fine,” the manager said after Saturday’s Giants victory. “He’s a veteran player with a track record of success. His throws will improve. We need to continue to be cognizant of the fact that his throws haven’t been great, and I think he will tell you the same thing.”
Flores has been at the center of a lot of bad and good so far, also converting a strange double play in Saturday’s third inning when, shifted over in short right field, he ranged to his left on a Corey Seager liner, then dove back to his right to make the catch, doubling off the Dodgers at second. His fielding has been an adventure, his bat an adventure the Giants want to explore.
He homered off lefty Alex Wood, the Giants’ second of the year, in Game Three and thus far is 4-for-12, providing hope he’s not just a platoon option.
Despite the struggles, the Giants still view him as defensive option, too.
“I have a lot of confidence in the veteran status,” Kapler said. “I don’t have concerns about his off-target throws. Obviously, I think he wishes and we wish that he was right on target right now. We’ll get him there.”